The handing over of education to Canada's First Nations is a rejuvenating moment for aboriginal communities. The $1.25 billion over three years which the federal government has committed to the initiative, is the beginning of a plan to fund instruction in language and culture, with $500 million over seven years for improving infrastructure and $160 million for implementing the handover.
First Nations schools will have to match provincial standards, just like any off-reserve school would, with certified teachers and student attendance requirements, but control will be in the hands of First Nations communities. This will make them no different in operation than school boards in cities or towns elsewhere in the province. Local control is the foundation for success because those in charge of operating the schools will live in the communities, know the students and consequently be far more perceptive and sensitive to their needs. They can then craft a school environment that better responds to those needs.
While one focus of the plan is to ensure more students graduate - with diplomas recognized offreserve by post-secondary institutions - thought should also be given to what goes on at the other end of the system, the preschoolers and kindergartners who ultimately will benefit from these changes. Getting through school successfully is one thing, but some of the money needs to target a more holistic approach. There should be outreach to parents of young children, to families who may be struggling with social ills or basic needs, and there should be provision for supplying children with warm clothing and hot meals in school should those things be lacking on a particular community. Standards, an enhanced curriculum and better infrastructure are one thing, but the well-being of the children is crucial to their learning success as well. A cold walk to school in a thin jacket or a stomach growling with hunger because there was no breakfast to be had at home are not conducive to academic achievement.
Self-government has been a goal for First Nations for decades. With the new education plan in place, a major step toward that goal has been taken. It should give new hope and a new sense of purpose to aboriginal education. For too long, too many children have had to leave their communities and board in urban areas to attend high school to pursue their dreams.
Now, they will be able to accomplish all that at home on their reserves if they so choose.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to know its own children well enough to successfully oversee their education - not just the core academic subjects, but the language and culture as well. The future for aboriginal children just got a whole lot brighter.